PAL's mission remains unchanged — to keep young people out of trouble by channeling their energies into recreational and athletic programs.For more than 90 years, PAL programs have expanded to meet the new challenges faced by inner-city youth.
Creation of Playstreets
In 1914, Police Commissioner Arthur Woods began a social movement that would eventually be known as the Police Athletic League. CommissionerWoods, a well-known advocate of New York City’s poor, worked closely with the Commissioner of Charities, John Kingsbury. Commissioner Woods instructed police officers to seek out the needy in their precincts and bring these people to charitable persons or organizations for help. Commissioner Woods had a special concern for the poor children who lived in the congested tenements of New York City with no safe places to play. In reaction to this problem, the police commissioner organized a city-wide search for vacant lots which could be converted into playgrounds. In addition, he set aside 29 blocks as playground blocks, where traffic was prohibited inthe afternoons every day except Sunday.
In 1914, The New York Times articulated the need forthese playstreets: “Children must play, and children, if they live in the cities, must play in the streets.” The objective of these playground blocks, according to The New York Times, was to “reduce the temptations of wrongdoings by keeping children off the streets and by giving them a chance for wholesomeplay under proper supervision.”
A separate goal of the playstreet program was to reduce tensionsbetween police officers and youth. Ruth Robinson of the People’s Institute remarked, “One or two of the policemen have entered into the spirit of the games going on at their end of the block,thus creating a necessity for the small boy to take a new stock of policemen generally...It bids fair to decrease antagonism to the police.”
The public reaction to the development of playstreets in New YorkCity was overwhelmingly favorable. When Commissioner Woods inspected playstreets, mothers rushed to thank him and children cheered his efforts.
At the same time Commissioner Woods was opening the city’s first playstreets, Captain John Sweeney of a Lower East Side police precinct was creating a more organized recreational program forboys, ages 11 to 16. In 1914, Captain Sweeney formed the Junior Police. These young New Yorkers in uniforms participated in marching drills and carried the green and white flags that predate PAL’s own banner colors. The Junior Police aspired to develop a more cordial relationship with the police, and support the values of good American citizens.
Modeled after the Police Department hierarchy, the Junior Police inducted boys as patrolmen and promoted them up the ranks to chief inspector. The members attended meetings twice a week, where they learned marching drills, participated in track meets and baseball games, enjoyed public swimming pools, and learned first aid, safety,and personal hygiene.
By 1917, the Junior Police had expanded to 32 precincts. Shortly thereafter, when Captain John Sweeney retired from the police force,the Junior Police disbanded without his leadership. The idea of an organized recreational program for New York City’s under privileged children would be revived more than a decade later.
During the 1920s, the playstreet programs continued to flourish.In 1921, the Commanding Officer of the Traffic Commission worked with the Mayor’s Committee on Recreation and Playgrounds to create 25 additional playstreets. In 1924, an additional 50 playstreets spread over Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens.
Crime Prevention Bureau
In 1929, Police Commissioner Grover A. Whalen appointed an advisory committee on crime prevention to address growing concerns about juvenile delinquency. It was believed that the trouble-making boy of today would become the hardened criminal of tomorrow. In an effort to prevent future crime, the Police Department began to focus on the youth of the city, and took a leadership role in providing positive recreation. In 1931, Mayor James J. Walker signed a bill to make the Crime Prevention Bureau, later known as the Juvenile Aid Bureau, a permanent part of the Police Department.
Twilight Athletic League
In 1931, a Crime Prevention Officer took an interest in a group of boys and organized a Twilight Baseball League comprised of eight baseball teams. The whole community pitched in donating materials and labor to build a baseball field complete with bleachers. The popularity of the Twilight League grew, and when basketball and football were added to the program, it became the Twilight Athletic League.
Junior Police Athletic League
The 1932 Annual Report of the Police Department stated, “During a Depression, it is the children who stand in the greatest danger of permanent injury.” In response to this concern, the Crime Prevention Bureau formed the Junior Police Athletic League in 1932. A committee to oversee the new organization was headed by baseball legend Babe Ruth and included Police Commissioner Edward Mulrooney and Deputy Commissioner of the Crime Prevention Bureau, Henrietta Additon. The Junior Police Athletic League was an out growth of the Twilight Athletic League. Although still focused on baseball,boys received boxing instruction and played football. In addition,in the early 1930s, the first girls basketball teams were formed.
In 1933, Police Commissioner Mulrooney issued membership cards to the Junior Police Athletic League. That year, the PAL All Stars baseball team traveled to Baltimore to play Saint Mary’s School, PAL’s rival throughout the early Thirties. The team’s trip was highlighted by a tour of Washington, D.C., and a meeting with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Police Athletic League
The Police Athletic League was reorganized in 1936. Junior membership was available at $.10, and adults were solicited as associate members at $1.00 each. Working with the Board of Education, Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine obtained a list of 5,000 truants in an effort to enroll the children in PAL programs.
In celebration of the new organization, the first week in August,1936, was declared “PAL Week.” To kick off the week,a carnival was held in Union Square, where children skated in teams to win prizes of jack knives, belts, and flashlights. Other promotions included former Governor Alfred E. Smith and boxer Jack Dempsey releasing 5,000 balloons from the Empire State Building,each balloon carrying a coupon redeemable for junior membership in the Police Athletic League. A boxing bout in Staten Island marked the beginning of PAL activities in the borough of Richmond. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a letter to Deputy Commissioner Byrnes MacDonald of PAL stating, “I hope (PAL Week) will serve to focus attention...on the constructive character building program of the Crime Prevention Bureau.”
Support from the WPA
President Franklin D. Roosevelt lent his prestigious support to PAL in many important ways. Although the nation was suffering under the worst Depression it had known, the important work of the Police Athletic League was supported on a national level. 520 workers from the Education and Recreation Department of the Works Progress Administration were assigned to PAL, under then supervision of the Juvenile Aid Bureau. In 1937, the number of workers from the WPA rose to 750.
Expansion in the 1930s
The late 1930s was a time of rapid expansion for PAL. Bolstered by WPA staff, PAL had over 70,000 junior members in 1937 and operated 69 indoor centers, many of which were dedicated to thememories of police officers who died in the line of duty. Recreational activities increased and included arts and crafts, aquatics,dancing, dramatics, kindergarten, motion pictures, nature study,trips and special events, in addition to games and sports. Radio stations WNYC, WBNX and WWRL broadcast weekly educational programs which featured PAL staff and children.
In 1938, Fox Lair estate in Warren County, New York was leased to the Police Athletic League. 120 underprivileged boys were given a month’s vacation at the camp. Boys gained an average of five to 10 pounds each and returned with improved health from a month of playing in the fresh air and sunshine.
PAL at the 1939 World’s Fair
September 6, 1939 was PAL Day at the World’s Fair in New York City. Over 2,000 members participated in boxing demonstrations,dramatic skits, and fife and bugle corps performances. In addition,a complete playstreet was set up in the heart of the fair to demonstrate PAL’s programs.
Budget Cuts Threaten J.A.B.
In 1939, the number of WPA workers was curtailed, and by 1942, there were no longer WPA personnel at PAL. Due to a lack of funds during the war, the New York City Board of Estimate announced that the Juvenile Aid Bureau would be abolished. Public outcry following that announcement was great, specifically citing the worthwhileactivities of the Police Athletic League. Soon funds were found to continue PAL’s operation.
However, PAL needed more aggressive fund raising to survive. In1939, PAL held a benefit at Madison Square Garden called “Stars Shine for Young America” which raised $25,000. According to The New York Times account, “Rita Hayworth...brought down the service men section of the house with rhapsodically blown kisses” at the star-studded benefit.
PAL Contributes to War Effort
PAL children contributed to war time efforts by organizing scrap salvage drives, helping with Red Cross activities, knitting and working in Junior Commando training and as messengers for Civilian Defense. PAL’s radio program on WNYC, “Pals of the PAL,” devoted air time to promoting the sale of war bonds and the collection of fats and waste paper.
PAL programs were necessary to provide supervised care for the children of parents engaged in war work and civilian defense duties. PAL was also considered a morale booster on the home front.
Renewal After the War
After the war, PAL programs expanded again. In 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt Field was opened, and Mrs. Roosevelt was on hand to throw out the first baseball. Fox Lair Camp, which had closed during 1944 and1945, reopened in 1946. That same year, Mayor William O’Dwyer launched a campaign to curb juvenile delinquency, and pledged “100% support” to the PAL program.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, there was a change in philosophy at PAL regarding social science. At that time, PAL began hiring trained social workers in order to add a therapeutic component to the treatment of troubled youngsters.
PAL Offers Job Placement Assistance and Vocational Guidance
In 1949, PAL created the Placement Division to help PAL boys and girls, ages16 to 21, find full- and part-time jobs. The Division also offered vocational guidance to allow young people to explore a wide range of career opportunities. Counselors and an occupational library were available to PAL youngsters who were seeking jobs,career advice or considering returning to school.
PAL Receives National Recognition
PAL radio programs received national attention in 1947 and again in 1951, when PAL won two Freedom Foundation awards for its community service program. PAL also received a gold medal from that foundation for its radio and television work with young children. A PAL essay contest in the Fifties, “Why I Like to Read Books,” secured endorsements from celebrities and literary figures across the country. PAL was responding to inquiries from police departments and government officials from across the United States and overseas,about procedures to replicate PAL’s successful programs.
Celebrities and PAL
In 1948, PAL began publishing a newsletter written by PAL members,called The PAL. Children often wrote biographical sketches of celebrities and solicited quotes from these stars. Actor William Holden stated, “PAL is the perfect place for a youngster to learn how to live and play with his fellow man.” Celebrities who visited PAL centers in the Fifties included Ed Sullivan, Mickey Mantle, former PAL Sugar Ray Robinson, and Lassie. Charles Bronson visited the Lynch Center’s camera club on behalf of his television show called “The Man with a Camera.” Peter Ustinoff was the guest director of Hansel and Gretel at PAL’s Duncan Center.
While on a trip to New York City, long-time PAL supporter President Dwight D. Eisenhower renewed his PAL membership and encouraged others to do the same. J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the F.B.I.,sent a letter to PAL commending its programs stating, “PAL is teaching...the difference between right and wrong, good and bad.”
Excellence in Athletics
PAL did not forget its origins in athletics during the 1950s. PAL boxers captured the Golden Gloves through out most of the decade. In addition, PAL athletes competed in the Helsinki Summer Olympicsin 1952, and in the Melbourne Olympics of 1956.
The 1960s marked a period of significant expansion in PAL’s educational programs. Head Start pre-school was initiated in 1964. PAL libraries opened with a focus on Black and Puerto Rican history,and PAL held its first annual Brotherhood Week essay contest. Programs reached more neighborhoods with the use of playmobile vans and mobile arts. PAL choral groups performed at the World’s Fairand Lincoln Center. President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the “Waron Poverty” in 1963, and federal funds were allocated for PAL programs.
In addition to essay contests, PAL youngsters were encouraged to express themselves artistically through PAL and community-sponsored art contests. Enthusiasm for photography among PAL youngsters grew. By 1960, PAL Camera Clubs extended their operations throughoutthe summer. Youngsters’ artwork was often displayed in neighborhood exhibitions.
During the 1970s, PAL participated in several nation-wide youth programs which educated young people about the dangers of drug abuse. Arts programs continued to flourish in PAL centers. In 1976, PAL sponsored the first Illustrated Poetry Contest which encouraged artistic expression in words and images. The following year, the “Stories My Grandparents Told Me” essay contest taught children how to use family history as a source of inspiration in writing. In the 1970s, the annual Superstar dinner fund raising events honored outstanding individuals. Sports heroes Willie Mays and Walt Frazier were among the first PAL Superstars.
A Newspaper is Born
PAL’s first newspaper, PALORAMA, was published in June 1977. “It means that Police Athletic League has reached such a degree of diversity of activities, that there is a need for a shared communication,” said Conrad A. Ford, Executive Director of PAL. Mr. Ford also saw PALORAMA as a vehicle of self-expression for members and a way to develop their talents. He encouraged them to write, draw and be published. Two years later, PAL received a $2,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for continued planning and development of the newspaper.
PAL Youth Speak Out
PAL’s first city-wide Youth Forum, an exchange of ideas on topics of current interest to teenagers, was held at the Police Academy on June 4, 1977. More than 120 teenagers participated.Over the years, the PAL Youth Forum has become a significant opportunity for teens to voice their concerns through follow-up reports to public officials.
A Celebration of PAL Playstreets
On June 25, 1977, three blocks of Rockefeller Center were transformed into a PAL playstreet to dedicate the 1977 Summer Playstreet Program and showcase its activities. The public joined PAL youngsters to play a dazzling array of street games such as hopscotch, skellyand shuffleboard. The crowd was entertained by many PAL dance and musical performances, as well as boxing and jump-rope exhibitions.Later in the summer, a “real” PAL playstreet – MacDougal Street – was used in a movie starring Frank Sinatra called “Contracton Cherry Street.”
During the 1980s, PAL reached out to disabled youngsters with a therapeutic horseback riding program.
Volunteer skaters helped raise funds at PAL’s Roll-a-thon. PAL athletes continued to win the Golden Gloves boxing tournament, and compete on a national level in track and other sports. In the late 1980s, the number of playstreets continued to increase.
In the 1990s, the PAL Board of Directors took an aggressive leadership role in designing and implementing a campaign to build new state-of-the-art community centers. A $40 million Capital Campaign was launched to create three new centers and renovate existing centers. Through the highly successful fundraising drive, new state-of-the-artfacilities opened in the South Bronx in 1996, Harlem in 1999,and construction began on the new South Jamaica, Queens facility. Major renovations were near completion at all existing centers,and an endowment fund was established.
By 2003, PAL completed its Capital Campaign, opened the new SouthJamaica, Queens facility and renovated and expanded existingcenters.
Today, PAL programs continue to meet the ever-changing needs of New York City’s youth. PAL serves children each year with recreational, educational and cultural programs.